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If your name’s not down, you’re not coming in. How mailbox providers like GMail and Hotmail are actually posh LA nightclubs.

June 1, 2015

A client recently was surprised at the deliverability uplift and response rate improvement we provided them by moving their email marketing activities off their own servers to a major email service provider (ESP), MailChimp.

It’s tricky to explain why a move like this can help to people in our field, let alone clients who concentrate on their business rather than worry about technical jargon. So, we came up with the below analogy. Nightclubs, bouncers, and being on ‘the list’.

Large email service providers like MailChimp are celebrities; and therefore are usually on “the list” to be let in hassle free unless they’re really breaking the dress code i.e have spammy elements in the subject line, link to dodgy sites etc.

Mailbox providers (like GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc.) usually trust MailChimp to keep their standards up, govern their users and not allow spam on the platform) so give them a high sender reputation for the servers they use.

Of course, they can still be thrown out for a number of reasons, but they usually let them on the guest list because they mostly trust them.


A lot of smaller companies and e-commerce systems use their own servers to send mail – usually the same ones on which their website is hosted. It’s cheap and problem-free; you don’t need to think about it. It’s easy for your e-comerce provider or developer to implement. But this is like putting a bouncer on the door and having no staff inside; it could be mayhem behind the doors.

Spammers could be using your forms to sign up to your site and mailing list, you could be sending out emails to known spam addresses (spam traps or ‘honey pot’ addresses) and your servers could be ignoring Feedback Loop (FBL) information mailbox providers pass back to you to let you know the email is dead, that users have reported it as spam, that the email has bounced or any other number of reasons.

This affects two things namely; your own stats (you’ll have a much lower open rate, for example, if you’re not cleaning dead addresses) and your reputation/deliverabilityto addresses that are genuine because you’re still hammering dead data.

Large ESP’s like Mailchimp keep their guest lists updated; you might have all kinds of bad addresses on there if you manage your sending yourself. So when you have bad names on there and try to get into the club, the bouncer doesn’t really know you, or already knows your bad reputation.

Why do major service providers keep their guest lists clean? Namely because their reputation and bottom line rides on it. For companies or e-commerce systems sending from their own server, deliverability isn’t a KPI or selling point.

Of course, if done right, DIY servers can become “popular” over time if they obey the rules (by ‘warming up a new IP‘, using SPF or DKIM). But deliverability can be greatly improved when moving from an in-house system to a large provider like MailChimp simply because MailChimp’s reputation gets you on the guest list like you couldn’t before.

Companies like Mailchimp use their own heuristic intelligence, algorithms and third party services like ReturnPath to continuously assess and improve their deliverability.

At Venture Stream, we even go so far as to use MailChimp’s transactional arm (Mandrill) to deliver our full service clients’ transactional emails to ensure high delivery rates and report on email data that would otherwise be ignored.

If you’re worried about your mailing list numbers, call us or contact us for advice on how you can improve your email marketing today.

Written by Adele

Adele is Venture Stream’s Creative Director and co-founder of ecommerce website

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